Summer is here and the spring fishing has quieted down to a dull roar, right? Wrong! There is good fishing almost anywhere in the four directions. Although sometimes you have to bribe the old timers into getting them to share some of their fishing secrets, or you could just get out there and try out different techniques.

I know, some of you trappers want to know when I’m going to share another trapping story, but we’ll wait until next time and then get you in the mood. Besides, hunting and trapping are no good in the summer, unless you have to do so to sustain life. In which case, I wish you the best and make sure you take a lot of “bug juice” with you.

Now let’s talk berries! It’s berry-picking time again and it doesn’t matter if you are young or old, you can still rush out and gobble down a hanful or two of fresh natural sweets. All you have to do is go out to your favourite berry patch and indulge. Just make sure there are no bears in the patch with you.

Sure, I’ve heard some stories where people are practically rubbing elbows with Mister Bear, even eating berries off the same bush. However, It’s better to be safe than sorry and best to give those big furry critters lots of room to put on their winter fat. On the other hand, you could jump right in with both feet and rub “mister big” the wrong
way. He’ll either run for quieter pastures, share his favourite berry patch with you, or give body piercing a whole new meaning.

All kinds of berries are now in season and ready to be picked. Then again, it depends on where you live.

Last year, in July, we brought home a good batch of strawberries from one of those “pick you own berry farms.” Needless to say, I had to sample every second or third to make sure they passed the old Cote taste test. Some of those farmed strawberries grow to the size of golf balls and are just full of juice.

While my partner and I picked strawberries I kept our 13 1/2-month old girl supplied with berries. She was in her stroller and if I took too long between giving her berries she let me know. By the time we left, me and her were covered in berry juice. This year, she’ll be right in there with me sampling away.

I know, I’m starting to sound like a T.V. ad, but it was down right good. We ended up picking just over 20 pounds of strawberries, not to mention the five pounds I consumed on site. I’m now thinking ahead to the pies and jam we are going to get out of it. That’s if I keep my paws out of the cooler.

Now is the time to also grab your buckets and head out to your secret wild blueberry patch. I took the time to scout out a few places and found that the berries were ripe as anyone could tell by the evidence smeared on my face. Try to take along a friend or a relative with you to keep you company. The more people picking, the more berries you will end up with. In my case, consume.

I remember our family picking and baking for days during the summer. My job at the time was to pick and sample, not necessarily in that order. Sure, I have to admit, I got caught with my fingers in the pie a few times. But I pleaded insanity. I was just crazy about them there pies.

Berry picking is also a good way for the little ones to get used to the outdoors. I have five children living in North Bay. The four older ones are able to hunt down their own berries. Just watching them take out a berry patch makes me laugh. My second youngest daughter still eats berries, stem and all. The older siblings also remind me of that video-game, Pac-man. All I could see was “smacking chops” zipping through the old berry patch.

The real masters of berry picking, though, have to be the Elders. Now I’ve witnessed a few of our older folks pick those tasty little bites, and I’m telling you, they have it down to a fine art. They move along like a slow-moving berry-picking machine, gently cleaning the branches as they go. Not like yours truly, who spends most of the time stumbling and picking up spilled berries.

Berries also play a significant role in our spiritual ceremonies and stages of life. Certain spiritual ceremonies cannot be conducted without berries being present. Especially in regards to girl’s, women’s and grandmother’s ceremonies. The berries are usually used as offerings to our spiritual grandparents and have to be present when feasting the spirits. Berries are also regarded as one of the four sacred foods that are recognized by some medicine societies.

I know some of these teachings, but it is a tradition that the mothers and grandmothers pass on. If one of you folks want to learn more about these teachings, there are grandmothers out there who can teach you. Remember to bring a gift or tobacco offering to the individual in trade for the knowledge you are seeking.

A good thing to remember is to be careful with fires or anything that might start a fire. It is dry out in the bush and we don’t want to burn down our favourites berry patch now do we? I know it’s a great make-work project for some Aboriginal fire-fighters, but a major bummer when it comes to preserving the old berry patch and life around it.

I hope all of you can find some buckets and fill them with those natural sweets. It’s great exercize and I’m sure you won’t regret it. Bring your boyfriends or husbands along. If you’re a guy, bring your girlfriend or wife along. If you are single bring your pet along. It doesn’t matter how you go about the task. You can even bring the whole tribe. If a good feast of berries doesn’t bring the tribe together, nothing will.

Until next time, take extra caution in the bush and leave a little for the animals who
have to put on weight to get them through the winter. If we by chance meet don’t be shy to share a sample of your berry goods. I know, I just can’t help myself. I’m berry wild about berries. If you have a good story to tell or want to invite me out for adventure, let me know. I’d like to share your version of the outdoorsman.

Lindsay Cote is an Algonquin from Bear Island in Northeast Ontario, presently residing in North Bay, Ont. To get in touch with him, write c/o The Nation.